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How Do I Get a Lawn Growing in Heavy Shade?

Posted on February 8th, 2023

Having a stubborn shady patch of your lawn that refuses to grow can make it appear unsightly. Whether it’s an old tree at the root of your problem or some other obstacle, you’re not alone in your struggle to grow grass in shady areas. Many of the best lawns out there have a spot like this that grows bare or thin.

However, you can have thriving, thick turf with a few simple tips. Follow our guide below to get started with your lawn recovery plan and learn useful tips on optimal shade lawn care. 

Make the Proper Grass Selection For Shady Areas

The primary key to getting a green lawn growing in a shady spot is to select the proper grass. Some types of grass thrive better in low light and shade. Here are the best kinds of grass for shady lawns and other difficult areas:

  • Fine-leaf fescue grows in cool seasons, is drought tolerant, and can grow in poor-quality soil. 
  • Bahai grows best in moderate shade and can thrive in different types of soil.
  • Zoysia grows well in warm seasons in both the shade and sun. 
  • St. Augustine is a southeastern grass and grows tremendously well in other warm areas.    
  • Perennial ryegrass is an affordable grass that does well in partial shade.  

Shade Lawn Care: Techniques to Improve the Aesthetic of a Low-Light Lawn

Choosing the right type of grass for growing grass in shady areas will get you started, but you also must take steps to improve the quality of your lawn in these areas. 

Shady lawns have their own unique needs, just like lawns that get partial sun or full sun. Here are a few shady lawn care techniques to implement and improve the aesthetic of your low-light lawn.

1. Compost and Fertilize

For a healthy, lush lawn in the shade, fertilizing your lawn is extra essential to make it greener. Fertilize your lawn in the spring and winter.

Generally, lawns should be top-dressed with compost every year. Most property owners do this in the spring, but varying the time is acceptable as long as your lawn gets fed the nutrients it needs for the growing season.

If you have a small lawn, it’s easy to start your own composting process with an indoor kit. You could also create a shared compost pile and grow a community garden for an additional beneficial impact on the environment. All small shady lawns need is a thin layer of compost to be happy and healthy. Compost will also help to restore balance to your soil.

2. Aerate and Overseed Each Year

Every lawn needs to undergo aeration and overseeding each year, even a shady ones. For shady lawns that get little light, annual aerating becomes more intrinsic to growing a healthy lawn. An overseeded lawn fills out thinner, weaker patches of grass that shady lawns usually experience.

3. Water Your Lawn, Less

The soil in shady lawns tends to retain moisture, so you don’t need to water them as often. Water is less likely to evaporate compared to sunny lawns. Overwatering can lead to mold or disease issues and kill off your healthy grass.

4. Trim the Trees or Remove the Trees

If your trees are obstructing sunlight from your yard, it may be time to trim trees to allow more sunlight. Trimming your trees helps to maintain healthy soil, but it also helps prevent branches falling and other hazards. A little more sunlight also makes it much easier to maintain a healthy lawn.

Removing trees should be considered as a last resort, especially if the tree is becoming a hazard, such as roots obstructing the underground pipes. Otherwise, trees add both value and privacy to a property, and removing one should be considered with care.

5. Work With What You Have

A shady lawn provides you with the opportunity to be more unique in your landscaping and gardening decisions. Many rich herbs and other types of plants thrive in the shade and moist soil. You could grow a moss lawn consisting of various mosses.

Additionally, you might consider xeriscaping or “growing” a synthetic turf. Xeriscaping is a type of landscaping that focuses its design on little to no irrigation, which is especially beneficial in dry climates and making use of drought-tolerant plants. Synthetic turf is often used on athletic fields and for other purposes, but it’s also used for residential and commercial landscaping. Further, it requires little maintenance, looks lush, and can last up to 20 years.

Get Grass Growing in Shade FAQs

Now that you have some techniques in mind to help your shady lawn thrive, you may have some lingering questions about growing grass in shady areas. Check out our shade lawn care FAQs below.

Can Grass Grow in the Shade?

Most types of grasses need at least four to six hours of full sun. Shade-tolerant grasses grow as long as they receive about four hours of sunlight, which can be partial light. Shade-tolerant grasses can develop into a lush lawn under dappled sunlight if they receive four to six hours of exposure. In full shade, you’re more likely to see other types of coverage, such as moss.

What Types of Grass Grow Best in the Shade?

Types of grass that grow best in the shade will depend on the climate. Cool-season grasses that thrive in the shade include fine and tall fescues, as well as ryegrass, as long as they receive four hours of sun at least to survive. Warm-season grasses include St. Augustine and Zoysia.

If you’re purchasing a shade-tolerant grass seed blend, choose one specific to your region, as it’s more likely to thrive as a native grass. It’s also important not to skimp on quality to save money. A top-quality blend is more likely to be successful. 

How Can Trimming Trees Improve the Sunlight Beneath Them?

Remove any lower limbs to let sunlight pass through to the soil. Pruning interior branches also allow more sunlight to stream through the canopy down to the ground. The removal of interior branches also allows air to circulate and improves the tree’s health. A certified arborist is best to assist with trimming needs.

Does Grass in the Shade Need to Be Grown Differently?

Shady lawns need a different type of care. Always mow your grass half an inch to an inch higher than you would a full-sun lawn. This leaves the grass and surrounding plants with more “body” to access more sun. Alternate directions every time you mow to ensure an even cut and light distribution.

Don’t scalp shade-grown grass, which is thin. If shady grass is scalped, it may not recover to its full strength. Where possible, remember to raise your mower since you last mowed in the fall.

Since Trees Produce “Dry Shade,” Should You Water There More Often?

Trees often experience drier soil due to a lack of rainfall penetrating the canopy to reach the soil. Trees absorb whatever available moisture is there, so the turf underneath needs more irrigation. Water “dry shade” spots more frequently to encourage healthy roots for a lush lawn around your trees. Keep in mind that acidic soil doesn’t favor growing grass, and trees with a higher canopy often experience more grass growth.

Should You Fertilize Shady Spots at the Same Time as Sunny Spots? 

The fertilization process is a little different in terms of amount. Grass that grows in shady areas relies on more nitrogen than in sunny areas, at least one-half to two-thirds more. So, you should fertilize with a thin layer of compost in early spring before the tree leaves return and then again in early fall.

How Can You Thicken Thin Grass Growing in the Shade?

Prevention is the best route to prevent thin grass in shady lawns. Remove stress placed on the growth process by limiting foot traffic. Adding stepping stones can provide this relief and add more of an aesthetic appeal.

Shady lawns should be overseeded once to two times annually. However, pay attention to the timing for different types of grass. For cool-season grasses, overseed in the mid-spring or early fall. For warm-season grasses, overseed in the late spring to the early summer. Always water the grass after seeding. 

What Should You Do If Your Grass Just Won’t Grow?

Sometimes, your grass just won’t grow, especially in heavy shade. In this case, it may be a good idea to explore other aesthetic greenery options. 

Select a shade-tolerant ground cover considered to be hardy for your zone. You can plan moss lawn or plant shade and moisture-loving herbs. The bare ground can also be covered with mulch or other natural materials, especially under trees that seem to dislike grass altogether. Stepping stones and other details can add interest to awkward, less green, and even bare spots on your lawn. You can also look into synthetic turf as an option.

Hopefully, this guide has helped to clear up any struggles in making your lawn beautiful. Contact us at Turf Unlimited for a consultation today if you have further questions.

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